Arabic Language Centre to publish biographies about Umm Kulthum and Emirati folk musicians

'Pioneers Among Us' will be released before the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair next year

Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum will be the subject of a new biography. AFP
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Books about the history of Emirati folk artists, Iraq’s musical heritage and Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum are set to be published by the Arabic Language Centre.

Pioneers Among Us, which was announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair, will be a series of 14 Arabic titles released in the run up to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which commences next May.

Speaking to The National from Frankfurt, Saeed Hamdan Al Tunaiji, acting executive director at the Arabic Language Centre, which is part of the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi, confirmed that English translations of selected books are also in the works.

“This is one of the reasons why we are here in the book fair,” he says.

“The books are written by acclaimed authors, poets and musicologists and are entering the final stages of preparation. It will really be a landmark collection that will shed light on many musical disciplines and artists for the first time.

“Because of that we want to make sure we work with the right foreign publishers to not only translate them in the best possible way, but for the works to reach the widest audience possible.”

A rich and evocative history

One title that is likely to attract a large readership is Umm Kulthum: Poetry and Singing.

Written by Ahmed Youssef Ali, the work suggests the influential 20th-century singer’s evocative song choices were driven by an ambition to elevate the status of the Arabic language.

While in Iraqi Musical Heritage and Civilisational Communication, author Muhammad Hussein Kamer details the evolution of traditional Iraqi music, from key instruments to musical modes.

The collection will also include a new Arabic translation of 1929's The History of Music in Arabia and Andalusia written by Julian Ribera, which highlights the role Spain's historic Muslim community played in preserving Andalusian traditional music and its eventual spread across Europe.

A new look at Emirati pioneers

Another key feature of Pioneers Among Us is the inclusion of works dedicated to Emirati artists and genres.

“I would say that this is the first time that detailed histories and studies into the genres will be published in a general book format,” he says.

“While they are written by experts, it is done in a way that is very accessible. These books can be appreciated by music lovers and those who have an appreciation and interest in the UAE and surrounding region."

The collection will also include biographies of Emirati artists Eid Al Faraj — a pioneer of Emirati and Gulf folk music — and fellow composer and singer Ibrahim Juma, whose career was honoured as part of the Sharjah International Heritage Forum last month.

Those looking for a deeper dive into the history of Emirati folk music should look for Wahhabi Art: Kinetic and Verbal Performance from Emirati Folklore by Hamad bin Sarai.

Featuring extensive field research, the work will look at how the characteristics of traditional Emirati music were influenced by the country’s physical and agricultural landscapes.

Another key reference book in the works is the Encyclopaedia of Sung Poems, compiled by Hammad Al Khatri, which lists many of the poems performed in the UAE, in addition to key themes and historical context surrounding the pieces.

Al Tunaiji hopes Pioneers Among Us inspire a new generation of artists by providing them context and knowledge on the masters of the past.

"We need to know about these great icons of the past, such as their inspirations and challenges, to understand how they contributed to our culture in terms of music and literature," he says.

"These are not books to be read only in academic circles, but for everyone in order to inspire the next generation.”

Updated: October 22, 2022, 2:04 PM
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